This Gross Science Experiment Shows Toilet Water Flies High Post Flush

If we’ve learned anything from pop culture, it’s that the best heists include lasers and can lead to fun and sometimes sexy scenes, like in Oceans 12 and Entrapment. Scientists have also been using lasers to do everything from brew coffee to track space debris. Now there’s a discovery that’s much less fun to learn about unless watching a scientist looking at data while remote-triggering a toilet amuses you. But it’s important science. Apparently, commercial toilets can fling water from the toilet bowl five feet in the air when flushed. And that seems like something we should all know, even if it’s disconcerting. 

The water flushed into a toilet bowl forces some of the contents out into the air, in what the scientific team described as a “strong chaotic jet.” “Even though we expected to see these particles, we were still surprised by the strength of the jet ejecting the particles from the bowl,” says lead scientist and engineering professor John Crimaldi in an article for The Conversation, which we saw on Geeks Are Sexy

The researchers published their findings in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. They suggest that designing different toilet shapes or valves could help reduce these plumes of particles. Closing the lid also reduces the spread and height of the toilet water spray, though they didn’t visualize whether some particles still escape or where they all go instead.

Droplets illuminated with green lasers fly out of a toilet
J.P. Crimaldi et al., Scientific Reports (2022)

There’s more science to do, whether we want to know the truth or not. The researchers performed the experiments in an open room. The presence of stall doors and ventilation could alter the plumes of spewing toilet water. The team didn’t specifically look at disease transmission, but it’s likely that flu and other germs spread this way. The scientists also didn’t include anything but water in the toilet bowl, stating in the article that: “The presence of fecal matter and toilet paper could alter plume dynamics in unpredictable ways.” But, isn’t that kind of important for us to know about too? Guess we’ll stay tuned for the next toilet water study.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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